WHEN Rebel Óg drew up the training schedule for their underage development squads back in 2015, John Meyler, who was involved with the U15s, more or less tore up that programme.
In Meyler’s eyes, the programme didn’t fit with his vision for the squad. He felt that they needed to be doing more. So they did. Outside of the planned schedule, Meyler and his management did ten extra Sunday mornings, mostly in Na Piarsaigh’s grounds, with that group. Initially, the decision didn’t go down well, with Rebel Óg, some clubs and a few parents.
The general feeling was that the programme was excessive but, after a while, those clubs and parents who may have doubted Meyler’s ideas, were won over.
The group improved. When that team won this year’s All-Ireland U17 title in Croke Park, a large part of that journey began on those mornings in Na Piarsaigh a couple of years earlier.
In Meyler’s eyes, he was always prepared to do whatever he felt was necessary for success.
When that group participated in the inter-county U16 tournament in Nenagh last year, they travelled up and stayed the night before in Tipperary. Cork lost to Tipp in an early round but they got back into the competition as a best-loser and ended up winning the tournament. In Meyler’s eyes, the victory justified the approach he had taken.
Not everybody has always agreed with Meyler’s methods but nobody can doubt his absolute commitment as a manager, and especially to Cork hurling.
That commitment as a manager and coach has stretched now nearly three decades. Meyler was involved with Cork minor teams as far back as the early 1990s, while he was a selector when Cork last won an All-Ireland minor title in 2001.
He was the Cork U21 manager this year which reached the Munster final, narrowly losing the game to the eventual All-Ireland champions Limerick, the outstanding U21 team in the country.
The work Meyler put into those U21s was colossal, especially considering that he was a senior selector as well. Meyler is liable to show up anywhere, at any time, to watch a match, either to study form or unearth any potential unhidden talent.
He even turned up on a few occasions when the Cork intermediates were having trial games to run his eyes over someone the seniors or U21s may have missed during one of his earlier trawls.
Meyler has significant senior management experience. He managed Kerry on a couple of occasions, along with Carlow and his native Wexford. Given his experience across the grades, and his extensive CV built up with Cork teams at all grades – especially with his involvement with the current senior team – Meyler always had his eye on the top job in Cork.
It now looks like Meyler will be the new Cork manager. Pat Ryan, who was Kieran Kingston’s coach this season, was the obvious successor but he soon ruled himself out.
Ryan would have been the preferred choice of the county board, and especially the players. His coaching and strategic input framed a huge part of Cork’s success in 2017.
After such a brilliant season for Cork, the obvious move was to promote from within the existing management but Meyler was the only one who remained after Pat Hartnett stepped down as a selector (before Kingston resigned) and Diarmuid O’Sullivan ruled himself out as a potential manager.
In early discussions about Kingston’s replacement, Meyler’s name was amongst a number of other potential candidates; Donal O’Grady, John Allen, Pat Mulcahy. Ger Cunningham, who had spent three years as Dublin manager, was also mentioned as a potential option as part of a new management structure.
Meyler was not at the top of that list but his name kept coming back as the most likely candidate, especially in the circumstances.
The timing looked right for him. There was nobody else really putting their hand up. Meyler’s chances of getting the job increased when it became clear that the county board executive would look after the process of appointing Kingston’s successor.
Meyler’s street cred has always been high with Frank Murphy, the board secretary, who always has a big say in these matters. Meyler’s stock is high now but there was a time when it was at the opposite end of the scale as a potential future Cork manager.
On the week of the 2002 league final, when tensions were running high about a possible GPA protest, Meyler exchanged words with Mark Landers about his future on the panel.
The comment infuriated the squad. When the first Cork players strike ignited that November, all of the Cork management resigned but Meyler was the last to go, stubbornly holding out until as late as possible.
When Meyler departed the Wexford job in 2008, there was a suggestion of a player putsch. On the otherhand, Damien Fitzhenry, the former goalkeeper, had nothing but good to say about Meyler, and was disgusted with his team-mates for their actions.
Meyler does often split opinion. He has always been blunt and straight down the middle. Not everyone is taken by that approach but nobody can deny Meyler’s honesty or passion for the game, particularly Cork hurling. The Cork players know Meyler well enough by this stage.
They know how he operates. They will also appreciate that securing a top-quality hurling coach will be key to how Cork move forward under Meyler, if he is appointed.
And if he is, making the dynamic work will be a challenge for Meyler and a squad with serious All-Ireland ambitions.